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Just one week ago, things were looking rosy. There were no known active locally acquired coronavirus cases in Australia. State borders were mostly open. Christmas hams had been ordered. While many other countries were facing extended lockdowns, the festive season in Australia was in full swing.
But things never stay good for long in 2020.
On Sunday, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 30 new cases linked to a cluster in the northern beaches suburb of Avalon Beach, first reported five days ago. The Avalon cluster now stands at 68 cases, with two more reported cases expected to be linked.
Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland extended their border restrictions to ban travellers from all of greater Sydney. Western Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory had already thrown up their borders.
Family gatherings months in the planning were abruptly cancelled.
Sarah Carles’s parents-in-law live in Sydney’s northern beaches. They were slowly making their way down to Melbourne, to visit Carles and her husband for the first time since February, when Berejiklian announced on Friday that the northern beaches would go into lockdown. Faced with the prospect of spending 14 days quarantining in Victoria or some time locked down at home – the current lockdown orders run until midnight on Wednesday but could be extended – they turned around.
With all of their extended family in Sydney, Carles and her husband are preparing for a quiet Christmas alone in Melbourne.
“In some ways we are a bit grateful that we don’t have to spend the weekend cleaning the house,” she says. But some Christmas supplies have already been bought. “We have a lot of vodka here and no one to drink it with.”
Matt Smith and his family were planning to leave from Melbourne for NSW’s Central Coast on Sunday, with a few days in Wagga Wagga to break up the trip. They were planning to spend Christmas with his parents then attend his sister’s wedding in Sydney two days later.
That will all now happen without them.
“We kind of saw it coming,” he says. “It’s 2020 being 2020 to the final moment.”
Smith is now trying to come up with alternative Christmas plans focused on just his immediate family: him, his wife, and two small kids. “We have got absolutely no family down here so there’s not much we can do, it’s going to be a quiet Christmas,” he says. “At least we’re not in lockdown.”
Luckily, his children are a bit too young to notice that most of their presents are missing. “Because we were planning to be on the Central Coast and we didn’t want to drive up there with all of it, we got most of the presents delivered to my parents’ house. So there’s very few presents for the kids here.”
Jake Nelson’s flight from Sydney to Perth was supposed to leave on Sunday morning. It was cancelled, but he had already traded the tickets in for flight credits. When WA premier Mark McGowan announced that all arrivals from Sydney would have to quarantine, the one-week trip no longer seemed worth it.
“We do not want to go all the way to Perth just to quarantine in a house for seven days before flying back,” Nelson says. “Plus we would be quarantining in a house with my grandma, who is a vulnerable person – that does not make sense.”
His grandmother was disappointed by the change of plans. They haven’t seen each other in two years and she already had the fridge and freezer stocked.
“It’s a pain and it’s disappointing and it’s sad,” says Nelson. “But I am not really sure what Mark McGowan could have done differently.”
The flight credit will still be used to fly to Perth, once the borders reopen.
On the NSW south coast, Melbourne midwife Kylie Pope is closely watching the Twitter feed of Victorian premier Daniel Andrews to see if there is any change to the border restrictions with regional NSW. Currently, anyone in regional NSW is able to travel to Victoria with a permit without having to quarantine, but Andrews has warned that could change if there is evidence the virus may have spread to the regions.
Pope and her family arrived in Merrimbula on 15 December and planned on staying about four weeks. It is a delayed holiday – last year’s trip was put off by the bushfires –and it’s sorely needed. Pope works out of Sunshine hospital, which treated many coronavirus cases. Seven months of lockdown and remote schooling took its toll. Having to quarantine to get back to Victoria would set back the recovery they have since made.
“It has been a long seven months,” Pope says. “It’s good to go and have a holiday with family, to relax … You go to NSW and think it is very safe here, so it was a bit of a blow.”
Debbie Russell Groarke was planning to drive from Sydney to Geelong this weekend to watch the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, then spend Christmas with friends. The plans were made when the long-range forecast showed Sydney would be cloudy when the celestial event, not seen since 1623, took place. But it was also an opportunity for Groarke to show her teenage children around Melbourne.
Groarke changed her plans before Victoria expanded its border restrictions to include the suburb where she lives, far away from the northern beaches. “It didn’t feel right,” she says. “It felt selfish and wrong to go down there, even though the borders were still open.”
Instead they have booked for Christmas day lunch at a local steakhouse and will invite an elderly friend whose husband recently died. She has urged other people to ask elderly neighbours and friends if they have been left stranded by last-minute changes to holiday plans.
Danielle O’Donohue was planning to fly to Melbourne from Sydney this week to see her family, who she hasn’t seen since January. The past week has been an unsettling reminder that Australia is not exempt from the pandemic, even though NSW has felt like business as usual for months.
“We have lived with it for a long time now and we are all really going about our lives,” she says. “It’s a big change to go back to: OK we should not leave the house except to go to the supermarket.”
Where she lives, in the inner west, the wearing of face masks has dropped off in recent months but is expected to pick up again, with a recommendation from NSW Health that everyone in greater Sydney wear a face mask in indoor public spaces and on public transport.
O’Donohue has been invited to spend Christmas with some Sydney friends, but whether she goes will depend on what happens when the city-wide restrictions and public health advice is updated on Wednesday.
“I will either have [Christmas] with friends or I will go and buy a Christmas ham and a plum pudding and I will have it at home with Netflix,” she says. “It’s not an ideal Christmas but it will be fine.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘It’s 2020 being 2020’: Sydney Covid outbreak disrupts Christmas plans across Australia | Australia news